Culture: March 2004 Archives

The Passion of the Christ, well on its way toward becoming the highest-grossing film in history, has evidence on its side to suggest that it will actually decrease anti-Semitism (or at least the ways people have been suggesting it might lead to an increase in it).

I don't think the people who put together the website I just linked intended anyone to connect the first two items, but look at the second one in the light of the first one. Might it not be that the real reason so many Jewish leaders were opposed to the film was because Christians would seek to use it to evangelize Jews? According to my new conspiracy theory, it's not anti-Judaism or anti-Semitism that they were worried about. They were worried about those who oppose a Judaism that rejects Jesus in favor of a Judaism that accepts him as Messiah, thus exemplifying the behavior of the very people they think Mel Gibson portrayed unfairly. [By 'oppose' I don't mean politically or in terms of how we get along but in terms of religious truth.] The ironies of the first-century interaction between Christians, who saw themselves as the true heirs to Judaism, and the Jewish leaders, who saw the Christian Jews and their Gentile converts as illegitimate Jews in some sense (for not following the Torah, as they saw it), continue into the first century of this millenium (though the issues are different now).

It continues to amaze me that Jewish people whom I respect very much, including a professor who has greatly influenced my ethical thought and my teaching, will insist that someone who is ethnically Jewish but an atheist or who converts to Islam or Buddhism is still a Jew, yet conversion to Christianity is incompatible with being Jewish. This double standard has the force of law in Israel (at least in terms of citizenship), but it's assumed by most Jewish people in the United States. Christianity has its very basis in Hebrew Torah, prophets, and other writings. It sees itself as the fulfillment of the Hebrew scriptures. Yet a Jew who sees Jesus as Messiah is seen as an illegitimate Jew by contemporary Judaism, even if this Jew continues to worship at a synagogue of other Jews who see Jesus as Messiah, maintaining clear Jewish worship traditions and cultural observances. This is the real reason so many Jewish people were opposed to this film, I think. They hate Jesus and everything he stands for.

Thanks to Josh Claybourn for the links.

(The dead outvalue some of the living, anyway). Swamphopper at The Rough Woodsman has an interesting comparison between the outrage at selling body parts of already dead people and the business-as-usual attitude toward destroying live human beings for very large sums of money. The amount of money in these organ sales pales in comparison to the huge profit of the abortion industry that masquerades as health care. It's true that stealing and selling these body parts dishonors the dead who donated their bodies for particular uses. It's also true that we need to consider where our priorities lie and why we consider this to be more worthy of serious outrage than other things that have become accepted as normal and inevitable.

Roundup

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I'm afraid I've found myself once again with a bunch of stuff I feel like linking to but without the time to say much about them, so it's time for another roundup.

A politically-motivated policy (and I would argue one of ill will, since 'pro-choice' is at least as much of a euphemism as 'pro-life') has led a copy editor on the Los Angeles Times to replace 'pro-life' with 'anti-abortion' when the opera being described was, quite literally, pro-life and not about abortion at all.

La Shawn Barber has some nice balance to the Memogate charges. Her conclusion? They're all deceitful snoops on both sides, and this is just about one person who got caught. This was a dishonest crime that found out the culprits anyway, and why isn't that being investigated?

The new Spare Change (formerly Clarity Amidst Chaos) has a comparison of John Kerry before and after in a nice chart. Some of these are legitimate changes of mind on the issues, but I have a hard time believing this many serious differences could be from that. As I think I've said before, I think he's in the upper class of the Democratic party, voting according to the current political wind to retain the lower elements of the party and not caring as much about the issues. (See this post for more on the class structure of the parties.)

I never knew that John Kerry had once realized the negative consequences of affirmative action for the very underrepresented minorities it's supposed to be helping. I wonder how many liberal politicians know this but won't admit to believing it due to their desire to maintain control over black voters (also in the above-linked political party class structure post). For those who want arguments for my view on affirmative action, you'll have to wait until I come to it after I finish my posts on separatism and anti-intellectualism, which I will get around to soon but have been putting off.

On the topic of the Democratic enslavement of the black vote, Baldilocks has two posts, one on her frustrations of being assumed to be a Democrat by voting officials simply because she's black and another on the issue that may cost the Democrats their loyal slaves. (This is probably one reason John Kerry, who condescendingly wants to be considered the second black president, as if there has already been one, won't say anything on the issue.)

Instapundit has a large amount of information (unusual for him) on the people complaining about Bush's commercials. Lots of interesting stuff.

Biblical scholar Ben Witherington and John Dominic Crossan (who is something else but says he's a biblical scholar -- I think he's more of speculative fiction writer about historical matters -- he seems to think Jesus was just a political revolutionary whose death was later reinterpreted to have spiritual significance and whose followers concocted most of the teachings we have from him to fit this theory instead of continuing the revolution he started and would have wanted them to continue) have a discussion about The Passion of the Christ. I give Crossan credit for giving the most serious real criticism of the film I've seen yet (though he said it for all the wrong reasons) about how people would misunderstand the cross without the context of the rest of the gospels, though I don't think that's a problem in itself. One focal point of Witherington's response to Crossan is Crossan's repetition of concerns I've pointed out before raised by Andrew Sullivan that in fact reveal a prejudice against an orthodox Christian theology of the cross. They also consider whether Mel Gibson did enough to remove the anti-Semitism objections. At the end Witherington lists some unhistoricalities that bothered him. I should say that Crossan's final comment about how Mulsims respond is just stupid. Muslims won't use this movie to blame Jews for the death of a prophet that the Qu'ran says didn't die (because prophets can't die, according to Islam).

Adrian Warnock has challenged my claim in this post that, despite the fall, humanity still has anything at all good before being redeemed. I think it's quite obvious from the biblical picture that the image of God gets twisted in the fall but not removed, but one person in the comments section of his blog seems highly resistant to this idea. Adrian also has a whole bunch of posts from the last few days responding to objections against "the church" (although I somehow get the feeling they aren't using that term as the biblical writers used 'ekklesia' for the gathering of believers).

Disney is backing the first Narnia movie. So much for that one.

I've seen relatively little criticism of Mel Gibson's new film from Christian quarters. By far most Christians are excited about the film, even using it as an opportunity to initiate conversations about spiritual things with friends who don't believe. The ones who don't want to see it are just intimidated by the violence they keep hearing about. I have seen a few worries raised about this film, sometimes being put quite strongly. Two pieces that have been brought to my attention come from sources I very much respect. One is on the website of the Presbyterian Church in America. I'm not a Presbyterian (I disagree quite strongly with their views on sacraments and baptism), but I very much respect the PCA. They tend to be one of the strongest advocates for Reformed views, which I tend to share with them, in our time. The other is from the website of Alpha & Omega Ministries, the organization James White works with. I appreciate his work for the same reasons. I have chosen to interact with these arguments mainly because I very much appreciate that Christians are thinking critically about this film but also because I'm fundamentally in agreement on the basics of the Christian faith with these people. I don't think all their conclusions are warranted, as I will explain, but I do think these arguments deserve to be aired, and in some cases I think they should affect how someone views the film. I also feel obliged to link to a very positive review by a Christian who emphasizes things not covered in most of what I've read. I happen to be acquainted with the reviewer through our both being on a music discussion list, but I don't really know him. I highly recommend his thoughts.

The arguments I'm considering seem to involve some mix of the following conclusions: Christians shouldn't see it, no one should see it, it was wrong for Gibson to make it at all, and it was wrong for Gibson to make it the way he did. Different arguments seem aimed at different conclusions (and from different people who have given these arguments).

The piece from Alpha & Omega included the following arguments. Some of Gibson's Catholic theology has been missed by Protestants who have assumed these elements of the film were just artistic license. According to the argument, this is not just about minor disagreements but about doctrines Protestants should find horrific, a focus on suffering for its own sake rather than seeing ourselves as the ones for whom and because of whose sin he suffered, a focus on the passion with such small concern for the resurrection that it might as well not have been there, and that there are only a few hints of the gospel message itself in the film with no clear sense of why Jesus died, why he had to die, and what our response should be. The conclusion of this piece is that it's going to be of no value to someone who doesn't already know the background but that someone who has the grid to impose on it will be benefited greatly.

The piece on the PCA website is more strongly against the film. The primary reason is that it violates the second commandment (of the ten commandments given to Moses, not the second of Jesus' two greatest commandments). It makes a graven image to be worshiped. This is a much more serious charge (one the first author dismisses without argument), and if it's true it deserves a more serious response. I'm not exactly sure what the author concludes in the end, but I'm quite sure that I don't think the conclusion is justified.

Let's look at each argument in turn.

I've been a faithful reader of Andrew Sullivan since I started looking at blogs. I've very much enjoyed his analysis, and I even agree with much he's said lately about gay marriage (though certainly not all of it). When others have abandoned him, I've stuck with him. I'm not sure if I will continue to do so.

I'm not going to link to his post that offended me, but you can find it if you look. He linked to a site making fun of evangelical Christians who take seriously the authority of scripture on homosexuality with the slogan "God hates shrimp."

Amidst some decent (but ultimately minor) criticisms of The Passion of the Christ, he's been saying some things bordering on the offensive by belittling orthodox Christian views on the atonement, as if Christ's suffering and dying for our sins is a backward, dangerous, and hateful view and that Christians should switch to other ways of talking about Jesus. He's compared the orthodox view of the purpose of Christ's suffering to sado-masochism. (He makes all sorts of unsubstantiated claims that Mel Gibson invented the depths of violence in this film, where anyone who paid attention to the Diane Sawyer interview could tell how carefully he had researched this film in order to fill in the gaps that a modern reader wouldn't know about what would have been done to him, which a first-century reader would consider obvious background information. He didn't get all the details right, but he wasn't just making this all up.) He's taken a few Mel Gibson quotes out of context and has referred to older quotes that Gibson has later clarified or indicated he's changed his mind on, all to make the man look like he hates lots of people. He's joined the bandwagon of those who ignore Gibson's claim that the Holocaust was an atrocity by saying Gibson won't say there was ever such a thing as the Holocaust. In other words, Andrew Sullivan has left all reason behind when it comes to these issues.

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